Thursday, March 06, 2008


It is not widely known that when the First Fleet sailed from England to Botany Bay, with its cargo of convicts, to found a new colony, one of their prime priorities was to establish a second settlement on Norfolk Island. In fact, many historians have believed that hoisting the British flag on Norfolk Island was equally, if not more important, than the presence in New South Wales. Not only was the island in a strategic position to thwart French interest in the area, but Captain James Cook had reported on the presence of useful flax plants, which could provide a source of linen canvas for sails, and he also believed the skyward-reaching pines would be valuable for masts.

So within 40 days of the arrival of the British at Botany Bay, a group of convicts and Marines, under the direction of Captain Philip Gidley King, made their landing at Kingston Norfolk Island. Each year, a public holiday known as Foundation Day is celebrated on Norfolk Island on March 6th to commemorate these events of 220 years ago.

The history of the present people of Norfolk Island, with their Bounty ancestry, is of course, quite separate to these events, although they took place around the same time. Nevertheless, it does mark the beginnings of more permanent settlement of the island, following intermittent temporary occupation by Polynesian visitors over the centuries. And we do actually have descendants of Philip Gidley King here, since the time in the early 1900's when one of the King family line married into a local island family.

The Foundation Day re-enactment provides a colourful spectacle for our tourist visitors, and large numbers of First Fleeters, - descendants of those who came with the First Fleet, particularly those who actually had forbears on this island during the times of the Penal Settlement- take the opportunity to visit Norfolk Island at this time of year.

This year, two of our boys were taking part in the re-enactment, so we took the opportunity of joining everyone down at the beach to watch the proceedings. It was a glorious day, and the waters of Emily Bay were like a mirror.

Thinking back to those earliest days..... Norfolk Island was to prove invaluable as a second settlement, but not for the reasons that were intended. The plans for the pine masts and the flax came to nothing, but the flax venture is an interesting story on its own, which I would like to tell you about another day. Meanwhile the French had already come across the island just a few weeks before, and had sailed on, declaring it "fit only for angels and eagles!"

The trustworthy convicts who accompanied that first expedition worked hard to help establish the little settlement at Kingston town, and there was a period of time when their agricultural efforts even helped feed the main colony at Port Jackson, whe supplies from England were delayed. Many of them became free men, and received grants of land, which they cultivated very successfully. But within 20 years, the whole colony was moved to Tasmania.

It was in later years, particularly in the period of the second penal colony some 40 years after the first settlement that the island became a "hellhole", a place to which the worst of the convicts were sent. But that scene was far removed from the happy optimism we saw among our local actors today!!


Anonymous said...

I love reading your blog and learning all about your island. Thank you so much for taking the time to post.

Keir said...

I stole two of your pics for use on my site ( which is dedicated to British ensigns). Let me know if it's OK or if you have any reservations; I get maybe five people visiting my site per diem. I appreciated you sharing them on your blog.

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